Women in Project Management

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Even in this day and age of equality, there are still significantly fewer women than men in managerial positions, particularly in the area of project management. Several reasons have been suggested for this. One is that project managers are mainly found in the construction and engineering industry – which have been historically male dominated areas. In addition, managerial careers in the past have traditionally been male oriented.

Surely, the involvement of more women in project management, would benefit project management professions by adding new blood and energy. To date no comprehensive surveys have been undertaken to find the reason why there is a lack of female project managers.
One of our previous articles looked at the Top 10 Qualities of a Project Manager – This article confirms that organising under conflict, decision making ability, cooperative leadership and integrative thinking, are all important personal characteristics of a successful project manager. People have different levels of ability in carrying out these tasks and there seems to be little evidence relating to possible gender-based causes.

Interpersonal communication – is a very important skill for project managers, and many researchers have found that women tend to have greater strengths than males in this area as well as in non-verbal communication. (e.g. Snyder D, Mclaurin J.R., Little B. & Taylor R.(1996))

Teamwork – Cartwright & Gales (1995) studies found that “women have significantly more of a team management style than men, characterised by a high regard for people, and high regard for task. They may also have a more heightened sense of awareness and greater sense of cultural incongruence and gender exclusion.

Empathy/Compassion – It can be argued that women are more sensitive in caring and showing concern for their staff than men. They can be seen as more capable in interpreting problems and bringing order to their area and are better able to maintain tight control – crucial areas of project management. Very similar skills can also be seen in motherhood and project management. When managing projects we see tradeoffs between cost, time and scope. When we manage our lives, we see tradeoffs between taking care of the tasks of the household, activities of the children and function in the work place. Managing these life challenges may help women become better project managers?

Dealing with clients – Being female may make it easier to gain access to clients and get on better with them. Clients may be more willing to talk to women and more willing to take bad news from women.
Some women may have greater degrees of skill in these areas than men, and this stands them in good stead as a project manager. However, this is not the reason so few work in the project management profession.

Different projects have different cultures. A masculine culture is likely to be dominated by power relationships and results orientation while a female culture is likely to be more concerned with interpersonal relationships and process orientation. The culture of project-based industries is inherently masculine. So is this the main concern? Do these cultures need to change in order to encourage women to take up project management positions? Various industries are looking to bridge the gap. Rigzone have a good news piece showing a drive towards getting more women into the Oil and Gas Industry: http://www.rigzone.com/news/oilgas/UKEncouragesMoreWomentoJoinOilGasIndustry

Although, in general the opportunities for women in project based industries appears to be increasing, women continue to be in a significantly small minority in them. This is not only because of the barriers that affect their entry to project based industry careers, but because of a general lack of knowledge and information about the industry, the career opportunities it can offer and what qualifications are required.

There is no proof to suggest that either gender make better project managers. Having the full range of skills and abilities needed to be a project manager, regardless of gender, leads to more successful projects and a greater balance between men and women. Probably, the way to increase the number of women in project management going forward, is to start at school level. Teachers/careers advisors need to raise the awareness and potential of their female students pursuing and excelling at subjects such as mathematics and science. This in turn should lead to more women going into industries which have previously been male dominated, and thereafter progressing into project management roles within these industries.

 

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